In what has been the great tragedy of my family, he took his own life at 23. We never knew why. We never understood it.
I was on the phone with my girlfriend. We were in the middle of an in-depth analysis of a five-word conversation I had had with some guy I liked, long since forgotten, when my mom came home. Being 17 and the center of the universe for about two minutes longer, I ignored the fact that she seemed to hover annoyingly until I finally told my friend demonstrably: “My mom is here, I can’t talk right now”. My friend was also 17, so I know that she could hear and appreciate my eye-roll through the phone.
Only after I hung up, did I look at my mom and understand that something was horribly wrong.
Five hours earlier, she had understood that something was wrong when her kid brother, my uncle, approached her at her job, highly irregularly.
He had understood that something was wrong, when he opened the door to find two serious-looking police officers, asking to please come in, then for him to sit down.
It was a series of wrongs that began when my cousin took his own life in a small garage; by keeping the engine running until the carbon dioxide from the exhaust fumes killed him.
We asked ourselves what signs we had overlooked and found very little to go on. He left a neat row of small yellow post-its on the dashboard of the car. ”I wonder how long it will be now?” is one of the sentences that has stayed with me.
Him, sitting there; waiting for death.
I went with my mom and uncle to see him at the morgue. It was a sterile room and he lay covered in a white sheet. A stout little porter was in the room with us, I think.
I guess I hadn’t seen him from that angle before. I was standing at his hip, looking up at his face, but because he was lying down, I looked straight up his nose. I noticed that his one nostril was larger than the other. It looked funny without being the least bit humorous. I then realized that his nose looked all wrong. Crooked. I have since thought that perhaps he fell forward when he was unconscious and rested on his nose. The weight of him must have made his nose crooked. The thought makes me very sad.
Everything about it was pretty bad but the worst moment came when my uncle touched his arm. Looking down at his dead boy, he was exhausting emotion like fumes. It was anger mixed with so much pain and disbelief, I could almost taste it in the back of my mouth. The rawness of it was like a color or a smell. Like smoke, only with none of the roundness smoke has. Sharp. I cannot describe it any further; only tell you, that it was palpable.
He reached out to touch him and was at the beginning of saying something, when, as had he been burned, he yanked back his hand. We all jumped at the shock. My uncle, whose face a second before had been frozen in an ugly crying-grimace, sobered up completely and said, wonderingly: ”He is cold.”
He was soft and warm no more. He was dead.
It says something about my mother, I think, that my uncle asked her to take on the task of informing his ex-wife, the mother. It says about my mother that she is a strong woman. That she is courageous.
It took all her courage and strength, but she did it. From what I understand, it was every bit as horrific as you can imagine.
He would be 43 now. Middle-aged. I can’t bear the thought of the children he never had. His wedding, I never attended. The life he did not want.
Left behind are we; the ones who loved him. Still wondering what we could have done. What we should have done differently. What possessed him.
I hope I shall never again read my name in a suicide note.
I hope I shall never muster the courage to tell a mother about the death of her child.
I hope I shall never hear of the death of my child.
Apart from a thousand questions, a great sorrow and loving memories, that is what I am left with. Despite everything.
Hope, that we manage to show it, when we love.
Hope, that we have the presence to see our fellow humans; really SEE them.
Hope, that love, kindness and attention may befall in plenty supply on all of us.
And I hope he found what he was looking for.
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